Deflecting attention from health care and doing whatever it takes to undermine Obama's popularity are not surprising conservative political tactics.Pursuing an old theme, already debunked, and circulating primarily on the fringe is maybe a bit more surprising, particularly insofar as the claims are empirical ones that are easily disproved. So why does the birther conspiracy have legs?
The most obvious answer is racism. An African-American isn't really an American. Ergo, an African-American must be born in Africa. The birther conspiracy, then, expresses whites' sense of threat to their own identities as it seeks to shore up a line between one of us and one of them.
I don't think this answer is false, but I don't think it's compelling. It's not compelling because it doesn't account for why the story persists in the face of evidence to the contrary.
A better answer needs to account for this persistence. A better answer, then, has to take into account the decline of symbolic efficiency. The 'evidence' of the certificate of live birth, the birth announcement in the papers, doesn't register. It doesn't appear as or seem real. And it doesn't appear as Real because there is no functioning symbolic order that can legitimize or guarantee it. The problem of the decline of the symbolic is the loss of the Real.
Any certificate that is on the internet or reprinted in print media is of course a copy. To say that one has seen the certificate is to say that one has seen a copy. But what can make the copy Real, particularly if one disrupts all the mechanisms of verification. The rupture of the conditions of possibility of credibility prevents verification from guaranteeing any copy that might appear. Differently put, there is NO piece of paper or certificate that could assuage the birthers. Their skepticism goes all the way down; they lack the basic dimension of trust necessary for a statement to qualify as valid.